In 2009, Chris W. Douglas went to South Sudan on a business trip and couldn’t believe he found so many people raising bees.
“If you go just north into the desert of Sudan or into Ethiopia, Kenya, beekeeping is less common,” says Douglas, who lives in Austin. But in the rain forests and Nile river basin of South Sudan, bees and their keepers are plentiful. “They’ll say ‘My parents had bees, my grandparents, too,’ as far back as you can trace it.”
That year, Douglas decided to start a nonprofit called Lone Star Africa Works, which works with communities in African countries “to improve access to markets, investment, technology, vocational skills and humanitarian support.”
What does that support actually look like? A jar of honey that just hit shelves in Central Markets across Texas.
Lone Star Africa Works partnered with Rio Nile Cooperative Trading and a company called Epic Honey to launch and distribute Epic Honey’s 100% Raw African Honey. Douglas says that he hopes they’ll be able to launch other sustainably sourced, fair trade products in the future.
The honey, which will soon be available in Natural Grocers, too, costs $14.99 for a 16 oz. jar and $8.99 for 8 ounces, with proceeds going back to the beekeepers and community projects where they live, including a 10-acre farm, a tree nursery and health clinics.
Because the bees are using pollen from plants we don’t have in the U.S., the honey won’t taste like any harvested here. Douglas has been sampling the product for a few weeks now, and customers have reported flavor notes ranging from chamomile and licorice to mango and orange. He took some honey to Antonelli’s Cheese Shop last week, which has inspired him to serve it with even more kinds of cheeses, including nutty hard cheeses and the soft pungent ones.
“Once I first tasted their honey, I thought, ‘This is great stuff. This could be what puts South Sudan on the radar and be the start of a whole line of African natural products,’” he says. “Honey is just the first step.”